CHARLOTTE, N.C. – College coaches often talk about the wall that so many freshmen encounter at some point during their first year on campus. It appeared as though Cameron Indoor Stadium would serve as that brick and mortar manifestation for Justin Jackson last season, although it actually had quite the opposite effect.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound wing scored two points on 1-of-8 shooting in that loss at Duke, logging a season-low 17 minutes.
The game of basketball requires intense scrutiny of the details, which is why Roy Williams also makes a point to stress a big picture point of view for his players. For whatever reason, that vision finally settled on Jackson in UNC’s first practice after the visit at Cameron.
Jackson’s turnaround was immediate as he reached double figures in 11 of his final 12 games, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 44.7 percent from long range. His highlight was a 22-point effort on 8-of-10 shooting in UNC’s upset of top-seeded Virginia in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
“Honestly, I just needed some things to click,” Jackson said at the ACC Operation Basketball media event on Wednesday. “They always told me coming in as a freshman, you’re going to go through a little learning curve. For me, it was a little longer than I wanted it to be. But once everything started clicking, I started getting everything a lot more in the offense, when to pick and choose to be aggressive, things like that.”
Jackson, who added 15 pounds to his frame this offseason, told reporters that in adapting to Williams’s system, his effort on the defensive end in denying the ball and understanding rotations oftentimes tired him out, leaving him to catch his breath on the offensive end. A mix of conditioning and understanding what his head coach demanded set in motion the “click” that Jackson referenced numerous times during his hour-long media session.
“I’m more confident than I’ve honestly ever been,” Jackson said. “And with that, practice has just made me more aggressive and really helped my game in so many different ways. As far as me as a player, I feel like I’ve gotten better in a lot of aspects that I need to get better in over the offseason, whether that was getting stronger or getting my shot more consistent or ball handling, whatever it was.
“I feel like I’m in a good place right now.”